This year’s theme for Young Economist Students’ Meet (YESM) is Reviewing India’s Industrialization: Problems and Prospects. According to me, such a theme for a students’ seminar is very relevant at this point of time because it has been 65 years since the country’s independence and India is emerging as one of the biggest and fastest growing economies of the world. There are very many obstacles still which hinder this growth and there are other aspects of the Indian economy that are greatly advantageous. So, assessing the path of industrialization in India and the future of the country is very much pertinent in today’s context.
Now, India’s industrialization can be divided into three periods, i.e. the pre British era, British era and the post British or modern industrialization era. Before the advent of European countries in India, India was famous for its handicraft products and large scale production of cotton, silk, dyestuff, jute, etc. Indian artisans were excellent at making metallic jewelry, household products and various other items. In fact, towards the end of the 18th century, India emerged as one of the major trading centers in the world. However, all this was to change once the Industrial Revolution was triggered in Europe. Factories in England were producing machine made cloth and these were much cheaper that the handmade indigenous ones. As a result demand for products of Indian craftsmen drastically declined and they soon ceased to exist.
The deindustrialization of Indian industry was what followed. This process was further propelled by the colonization of India by the British. The strength of the Indian industry lied in its capability of producing cotton and other fabric materials and exporting it. When the British arrived however, India started importing cotton manufactures and this caused a drain of wealth. According to Amiya Bagchi, “for more than seventy-five years up to 1913, India remained the major importer of cotton goods from Britain, often taking more than forty per cent of the British exports.” The decline of industrial hubs like Dhaka, Murshidabad, Surat and other towns are examples of how the British raj affected industries in India. When the Indian industries collapsed, there was a huge decline in population as there was widespread unemployment, malnourishment and death. Further, the dependency on the agricultural sector increased.
On the other hand, if we ask ourselves, did the British rule have only a negative impact on the Indian economy? Then the answer has to be no. Apart from providing political stability, the British helped improve the infrastructure base of the country. Railways were introduced and tracks were laid down, making journey from one place to another a relatively faster process. Pre British Indian agriculture according to western thought yielded a very low level of produce. With the advent of the British, this changed for the better. Further, it was the British who introduced the use of...